Contractual Gift-Giving As a Functional Hybrid: The Case of Gift-for-Sex Exchanges in Russia

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Christopher SWADER , Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Russia
Ideal-typical forms of capitalism ('cold' profit orientations) and gift-giving (the „pure gift“) can be found to illustrate the crucial aspects we assign to these concepts. Yet these two concepts blend together extensively, especially in practices of instrumental gift-giving. In particular, „contractual gift-giving“ is a particularly 'pure' hybrid form of exchange, as it is more formalized, and thus more rationalized and calculated, than other types of reciprocal gift exchange. Strong everyday evidence of this hybrid practice can be found within compensated dating practices.

Using the case of contractual gift-for-sex exchanges in Russia, the empirical basis of this paper is a rich body of recently collected (2010-12) data, including online content analysis of dating websites and discussion fora, face to face interviews, and a quantitative survey. Multi-method results demonstrate that the two sides of the contractual gift 'hybrid' exchange form interact so that that both maintain key aspects of their conceptual purity, yet in a way that allows translation between them. In particular, the gift form is unique in its ability to bring symbolic relations (such as love and romance) into market exchange as commodities through involving them in contracts. While the 'purity' (altruism) of such gifts is indeed removed/unveiled through their availability on the marketplace of 'sponsorship' and compensated dating, the gift nonetheless maintains its valence of care, generosity, and even love for practitioners. The features of this contractual gift form are analyzed in the context of the post-socialist economic transformation in Russia, focusing especially on the subjective incorporation of market logics and language into everyday life and the recent materialistic and partial sexual revolution in Russia.